Contra Costa County health officials are seeking volunteers to be “contact tracers” to research the connections between people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and others who may have potentially been infected.
Establishing such contacts will not only help identify people who need to be tested, isolated or treated, but also help inform Contra Costa County’s long-term strategy to provide COVID-19-related care.
Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County’s health officer, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning that the ultimate goal is more testing.
“We’re sort of flying blind if we don’t have enough testing,” Farnitano said.
The testing goal, Anna Roth told the supervisors, is 2,200 tests a day, particularly of people without the usual COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, labored breathing and dry cough.
“We think that’s a realistic goal,” said Roth, the county’s director of public health services.
The contact tracing is crucial for identifying people with the most urgent need to be tested. Last week, Roth said, 12 county employees attended a virtual “tracing academy” through the University of California at San Francisco. Nine of those attendees, she said, are county library workers now being asked to pivot to contact tracing.
In addition to county employees being asked to shift their duties in this pandemic emergency, Roth said the county seeks volunteers from the general public to do tracing work. Prospective volunteers can email COVID19volunteers@cchealth.org, Roth said.
Many Bay Area counties are accelerating efforts to build teams to do the detective-type work of determining who positive-testing patients have had contact with. Finding those people and testing them, Farnitano said, will be key in reopening county government, the business community and leisure activities, even gradually.
As of Tuesday morning, Contra Costa Health Services had tested 19,176 people, according to the department’s online COVID-19 dashboard. Of those, 1,006 had tested positive, and 32 have died, Roth said. Twenty people remained hospitalized Tuesday morning, Roth said, 10 of them in intensive care.
That COVID-19 dashboard, Roth said, will feature starting this week the number of people who have been sick and have recovered. That figure as of Tuesday morning was 894.
Contra Costa County Administrator David Twa told supervisors the county has so far spent $135 million on COVID-19 care, testing, prevention, employee work changes (including setup for working at home), employee overtime and other various expenses.
The county hopes to recover much of that expenditure from the federal government, Twa said, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
But he said such reimbursements have been slow to come, and that he expects the county to spend another $29 million or so in the next two months. Lower sales tax revenues resulting from Bay Area shelter-in-place orders and delayed county property tax payments until May 2021 will exacerbate the cash shortage, Twa and others said Tuesday.